Dear Lifehacker, My daughter uses Vodafone and has just been hit with a $100 bill for her Facebook usage — even though she gets Facebook for free on her plan. Apparently, you have to use the browser version for this to apply. If you use the Facebook app you pay normal data charges. What’s going on? Is that reasonable? Thanks, Anti-Social
Phone user picture from Shutterstock
This restriction is annoying and not always well-promoted, but it has long been the case that “free social networking” on mobile plans is restricted to using the on-phone browser, rather than using the apps (official or otherwise). That applies not just to Facebook, but also to Twitter, LinkedIn, Foursquare, eBay and MySpace, which are the usual services that are offered without data charges on those plans.
At a technical level, this comes down to tracking your activity. Browser requests to a specific domain (such as facebook.com) can easily be identified, but data sent from an app won’t necessarily be in that format (and the way requests are made may alter each time the app is updated).
This is likely to be less of an issue in the future, if only because the “free” options are disappearing as telcos try and make more money from data. Optus dropped free social networking from its contract plans last December, and Vodafone dropped it from its prepaid plans in January, having already removed the option for new customers on its contract plans. (Evidently, your daughter signed up before that happened.)
The lesson has presumably been learned for the future: while the browser version may be less convenient, it’s free (at least for the time being). In terms of the existing $100 bill, we’d suggest contacting Vodafone and asking for a detailed breakdown of that data usage. Providers often struggle to provide that information, and under the circumstances they may agree to waive some or all of the bill.
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